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High court deems Berlin shop hours unconstitutional

DDP/DPA/The Local · 1 Dec 2009, 14:50

Published: 01 Dec 2009 12:30 GMT+01:00
Updated: 01 Dec 2009 14:50 GMT+01:00

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The court said the German capital could no longer allow stores to open on the four Sundays prior to Christmas, but permitted shopkeepers keep their doors open this Advent season one last time.

With the least restricted shopping hours in Germany, Berlin’s 2006 decision to allow stores to open on ten Sundays and holidays a year sparked a constitutional challenge by the Protestant and Catholic churches afraid the sanctity of their holy day was being unduly impinged.

After allowing the liberalisation of opening hours on every day of the week except Sunday a few years ago, the high court justices agreed there could be no further weakening of Germany’s Ladenschluss laws.

“A simple economic interest of merchants and the daily shopping interest of potential consumers are not fundamentally enough to justify exceptions for opening stores on these days,” said the court’s president, Judge Hans-Jürgen Papier.

Citing the so-called Weimar Church Article of the German Reich’s constitution from 1919, the justices said that Sunday had a special protected status to ensure Germans could rest from work and have time for spiritual rejuvenation.

Shops in Berlin will now only be allowed to open a few Sundays a year deemed in the “public interest” by the city government, as well as a handful other days for special events such as street festivals or anniversaries.

Both church and trade union officials welcomed the verdict as a victory for families and workers.

Katrin Göring-Eckardt, head of Germany’s main Protestant lay organisation, called it a “gift to society from Christians.”

“This is very good news for the more than 100,000 sales people in Berlin,” said Erika Ritter, from the Berlin-Brandenburg chapter of services trade union Verdi.

But Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit called the ruling a “real step backwards” that did not take into consideration modern lifestyles.

“We didn't force anyone to open and we didn't force anyone to go shopping,” he said. “Shall we recognise the changing reality of life or will we ignore it?”

Story continues below…

Proponents of liberal shop hours also acknowledged the legal setback, but said it did not entirely rule out opening on Sundays.

“Occasionally being able to open on Sundays is crucial – especially in regions like Berlin with low consumer demand and lots of tourists,” said director of the HDE retail association Stefan Genth.

“Retailers don’t want to try and change the constitutional protection of Sundays, which is why stores only open after church mass.”

DDP/DPA/The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

13:07 December 1, 2009 by solala
"the Protestant and Catholic churches afraid the sanctity of their holy day was being unduly impinged. ": hmm I think this was a democratic country. Now I am not too aware of the seperation of State and Church but I believe that if individuals want to go shopping on a Sunday rather than go to Church, that should their own decision. Moreover, I highly doubt that keeping them from shopping will have them want to go to Church.
13:17 December 1, 2009 by steve_glienicke
Think this judge needs to move himself forward a hundred years and realize that not everyone wants or needs the church, freedom of choice springs to mind here and as far as i'am aware church services on a sunday tend to be in the mornings and the shops do not even open until 13:00 so how does that effect them? plus if im not mistaken isn't discrimmination against the law and if it is my choice to shop on a sunday does this not discrimminate against me? constitutional or not all this man has done is ensure more poeple will want nothing to do with the church!
13:23 December 1, 2009 by nicgman
Gotta be Nr. 1 on my list of stupid things in Germany... I wonder what percentage of the population go to church on Sundays? All I know is that when a shop is open on a Sunday it is normally packed... enough said.
13:27 December 1, 2009 by The-ex-pat
I will have to put it to my boss that he closes his airline down every Sunday!!!

Why are shops held up to be such a holly cow??? Restaurants, petrol stations, trains, taxis, airports, emergency services, swimming pools, buses, cinemas, theatres, pubs, to name a few. OK for these heathens to work, but not shop employees....................see you in church..NOT!
13:45 December 1, 2009 by Portnoy
It isn't so that people can go to church, it's so that they have a day off. Sure there are contradictions but I love it. Sundays are just chill days.
13:49 December 1, 2009 by Gaffers
I completely agree that shops should be allowed to open on a Sunday if they wish. Personally I don't have much time and the chance to go shopping on a Sunday would be a great help. It would also help the shops themselves financially.

Unfortunately we don't live in a free world. Religious beliefs still continue to dictate to the rest of us what we can or can't do.

As pointed out it is the hypocrasy they I find funny. Some things are allowed to operate on Sundays but others are not. If it's so important it should be all or nothing. I'm sure God doesn't compromise ;-)

What about the sanctity of the religious days of non christians (I know it's a Catholic country don't flame me) ? Shouldn't they be protected as well in this case?
13:59 December 1, 2009 by kentishbells
One of the many things I like about the way you do things in Germany is the fact that you keep Sundays special. I do not say this for religious reasons, its simply that I like the idea of one day a week where you dont have to do anything and dont feel the pressure to do so. I have never understood the need to open shops on Sundays anyway. If I need some paint or a new CD or whatever then I will buy it anyway, I just have to plan better and go shopping on Saturday or during the week!

Shop sales wille the same whatever as if we need it we will buy it when they are open. Unless of course the shops want to open on Sundays to catch out the week willed who will impulse buy something they dont really need??

Keep up the good work, I just wish we could stand up to our retailers in the same way!
14:22 December 1, 2009 by d-j-US
Just like kentishbells, having one day a week that is somewhat restricted is a good way to cause people to slow down a bit, and to delay thinking of their selfish desires. As you read all of these posts above, it seems fairly obvious that "my rights" are superior to anything else. In fact, I find it funny that not providing something to the whole group is seen as discrimination to a specific group - another example of "me" above everything else.

I would like to think that if more businesses were closed on Sundays, it would allow families to spend more time together. In case you haven't seen it, the disintegration of families and family time has led to far too strong individualism - not independence - and everyone believes the world must revolve around their wants. This attitude has resulted in even a person's immediate family becoming second-rate.

All this is not to say that shopping on Sundays is the "bad guy" here, but when the focus shifts to "me" instead of to family, friends and others, a country loses its group focus, its ability to establish principles that make it strong and worth fighting for, and its people become merely a number, a tax revenue source and a commodity. While many churches may have the wrong idea of spirituality or they may have a wrong view of God or the Bible, the one thing they have in common is that they foster a sense of unity and family.

When the government then says they are trying to improve the unity of the country by encouraging unity of the family by continuing a practice that supports these, what is the problem?
14:27 December 1, 2009 by LancashireLad
This is supposed to be a secular state, so the church "shouldn't" have a say - but religion is nothing more than fancy dressed politics so .. "I'll scratch your back .." sort of thing.

I don't understand the "let's keep Sunday quiet" lobby either. Nobody is forcing you to go shopping on a Sunday - but leave those of us alone who might like to. I don't see why anyone should dictate to me "when" I have my time off. I'd like to chose that myself, thank you.

Mind you, it's likely to be years and a huge shift in deep seated thinking before anything does happen - don't forget, this is the country where quite between 1pm and 3pm is almost holy and it is illegal to mow your lawn on a Sunday.
14:54 December 1, 2009 by Gaffers
What I see here is that people need to be forced to slow down and relax? Can't they think for themselves? What about choice? If you don't want to shop on a Sunday then don't. If you want to spend time with your family then do that.

Having the shops open isn't going to force you to go shopping. If it's not peaceful enough then go to another area. You still have the freedom to choose what you do with your time. I, on the other hand, do not have the freedom to choose to go shopping on a Sunday.

The disintegration of families is not caused by Sunday shopping :-) As parents it is our duty to bring up our children properly not the governments. If I cannot raise my children so well because shops are open on Sundays I must be a pretty poor parent. I can CHOOSE to spend time with my family still.
15:15 December 1, 2009 by Macqueene
On weekdays all shops close by 8:00p.m. (some by 6:00pm). On saturday many shops in our subburb close by 1:00 p.m. It'll be really good to have shops open on Sundays, so we can take nice rest on saturday (after a streeful week) and then enjoy shopping on Sunday.
15:45 December 1, 2009 by thomass66
Oh please, growing up in the States during the seventies I always thought it to be the norm that everything was closed on Sunday, how I long for those days again (in the U.S. that is). How about trying something different for a change on Sundays - spend some quality time with your family, this is something that I think the Germans are trying to maintain, not impose their will from the pulpit, please get a grip. Just let people enjoy at least one day off during the week to spend quality time with the family or friends or just to rest. I'm not one to say that the church should be making the rules here and that is why if you read the article it was the decision of the courts, so leave it; please don't become like the idiots in California who continue to let people vote on a referendum just to have it later overturned by those of the minority that did not vote for it to simply have it over ruled or simply thrown out all together. Some things are better left alone - like leaving the stores CLOSED ON SUNDAY.
15:51 December 1, 2009 by Gaffers

nothing to stop people enjoy a quiet day even if the shops are open. This is what I don't understand in the whole argument. People are still free to relax if they choose to.

For others it would be good to have a choice to go shopping if they so decide. It doesn't impact those that don't choose to.

Let people make their own choices ....
16:37 December 1, 2009 by Gaffers
It seems that there is a false notion that the shops opening on a Sunday would only benefit shopaholics. A bit narrow minded don't you think?

I work away from home so only have the weekend available o me to do shopping, see friends, do housework and any DIY etc I might have to do. Wouldn't it be great if I could choose to do some of those things on a Sunday instead of being dictated to that I have to do those on a Saturday?

Sometimes it's about neccessity not desire. Long live freedom of choice !
16:37 December 1, 2009 by moistvelvet
Strange isn't how some people accept this law on grounds of religion and social unity, yet are outraged at the thought of a minaret because Islam and sharia law may have similar laws restricting freedoms.

Personally I don't mind the shops being closed on a Sunday, it is a family day. But I do object to shops closing on a Saturday that may fall on a bank holiday, only then deciding to open on a holy Sunday to make up for loss earnings.

As for driving on the right, it isn't right. In Medieval and feudal times (thats a long long time ago to our American cousins ;-) ) Knights used to pass each other on the left because most people are right handed, therefore your sword arm was closest to your enemy. Napoleon was left handed, so he made everyone else go against common sense and pass on the right.
16:44 December 1, 2009 by nicgman

The bells comment is classic.... I totally agree and I live next to a church... 25min every Sunday like clockwork
17:01 December 1, 2009 by Gaffers
If families need shops to be closed to enjoy quality time then that's an issue in itself. People shouldn't need to be FORCED to spend time with their family !

It's not about bad planning. It's not about quality of life. It's about freedom of choice and not being dictated to based on other peoples outdated principles and superstitions.

It's not about making more money for the retail chains. Economically they wouldn't neccessarily benefit. Their sales MAY see an increase but their overheads increase disproportionately more so. Customer spending has a ceiling but the facility and salary costs would be additional.
17:17 December 1, 2009 by farstars
17:51 December 1, 2009 by twisted
If shops have to be closed on Sundays because that's the way the churches want it, then they should be closed on Friday on behalf of the Muslims and on Saturday on behalf of the Jews. Let's be fair and non-discriminatory.
18:22 December 1, 2009 by reprap
A woman friend of ours was hired to work at a department store just because they expanded working hours and were to open on Sunday. It will be interesting if they will keep her on know.
20:58 December 1, 2009 by solala
Please don't forget that being open on Sundays can also benefit workers. For example, I used to study at master level full time and work part time in retail to make ends meet when I lived in England. Being able to work shifts on the weekends allowed me to have more time to go to university (courses took place 4 days a week), use the libraries and basically concentrate my studying over the week and make the money over the week-end. I understand that some retail workers might feel as if they would have to sacrifice part of their weekend but for others it would be a blessing.

Moreover, I find it difficult to understand that this law applies to certain type of shops but not to others, so restaurants, drinking holes, gas stations and others can stay open on Sundays. Plus, now that I work in an office full time, I would like to be able to choose whereas I should run my errands and do my shopping on Saturday or Sunday. I find in Berlin where maybe people have a social life on Friday night and Saturday, that Sunday would be the perfect day to do . Plus we're not talking about spending the entire day in shops, I am sure that people here are adult enough to manage their own free time without the help of the Church and the State, thank you very much!
21:17 December 1, 2009 by mprulez
As if Jesus would not like to buy his bread, fish and wine supplies on a sunday!
22:06 December 1, 2009 by freechoice
after laws against home schooling, this is one of another crazy law i have ever seen,,,churches attendance in Germany is already so low, how could this help?

in the States the shops open 24x7, and churches are always full!!!

i love to go to church on Sunday, i also love to be able to buy something on Sunday too, if i need it?
03:41 December 2, 2009 by 1FCK_1FCK
Think of the poor minimum (or the equivalent in Deutschland) wage workers who would have to work Sundays if they want to keep their jobs. Everyone deserves at least one day of rest each week. Surely people can do without shopping one day a week to give the folks on the bottom rung of retail jobs a break.
06:14 December 2, 2009 by Cheney
Come to the US and see what its like to have 24/7 shopping. Its a whore house of consumerism. Dont believe what the TV wizard shows you on the TV. It is a wasteland of zombie consumers. Never at ease. Never with enough. Fat and yet not happy. The elderly lodged in old folks homes, and the children raising themselves--lucky they survived the "choice" of their mother to execute or to give birth to. You protest for what you do not know.
06:52 December 2, 2009 by Thames
Attempts to open up general commerce on Sunday's is an insult to human dignity. Workers should be allowed a day of rest to prevent exploitation by business interests. By tradition in many German states Sunday has been a day off. The German Constitution since 1919 provides for a day off for spritual reasons it says nothing about it being for Christians only. Germany was a Christian country. Once Germany was called the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation.. German culture has been shaped by its Christian heritage but just because a law has its origins in relgion does not a law per se. Most laws are based on religion or morality. The basic right of workers to have a day of rest is rational, humane and just. Untill the 1980's this was also the law in many states in the US.
07:40 December 2, 2009 by frodo84
Just curious, would the numerous sex clubs and cabarets be open on Sundays? What about the bars and pubs? Are they, technically, 'shops'?
08:32 December 2, 2009 by parografik
Although I find the increasing hours of labor among workers here in the U.S. discouraging, the courts ruling seems to be a kind of pouting by the reactionaries against the weakening hold of the church and paternalistic values. If it were held out as a reason to compel rest, why is it only on Sunday? I would much prefer Saturday as a day when the stores are closed on a weekend. No, it is simply a government jamming religious beliefs down the throats of people who aren't going to run to the alters because they can't pick up groceries. I personally enjoy the peace offered by closed shops, and can manage to schedule around a few hours each week, but I disagree with the ruling simply because it is dogmatic and hypocritical.

I also find it appalling that the German government aides in the tithing of money for the church by withholding from the paycheck, but I imagine this reaction is not uncommon for most Americans, even with the rise of the right wing. It is this kind of institutionalized snake oil sales that makes me want to call up a few friends and claim a visitation by our own personal prophets in need of profit.
09:24 December 2, 2009 by YankeeT
I have always thought German shops being closed on Sunday was a great idea.

In the current economy it sounds like they are shooting themselves in the foot, but in the big picture it promotes relaxation, forces people be organized and plan ahead, and sets up a reliable constant in everyone's week where they can count on having time to accomplish things.

It is too bad Christendom had to be the one to force it in the courts.
10:26 December 2, 2009 by moorekwesi
I Love my German Sundays.Cool off with no pressure.Time to relax and plan for week.I think this is what it should be.
10:27 December 2, 2009 by steve_glienicke
1FCK_!FCK, everyone even shop workers who work on sundays get a day off in the week! what do you suppose they do with that day? i can tell you, they shop i know as my wife works weekend, and almost every weekend in a Hotel, do you think they should close Hotels on weekend because these poor low paid workers deserve a day of rest, lets all get real, everyone including weekend workers get a day of rest, bottom line is freedom of choice if we are to close on sundays because the church petitioned it, then we should close fridays for muslims and saturdays for jews ok...
10:39 December 2, 2009 by moistvelvet
Just to add that the culture of many shop assistants I've experienced, of the "not really bothered about selling, just waiting to knock off" type, could benefit the economy more by realising that customers satisfaction is their bread and butter.

Sunday shopping might benefit the retailers, might benefit those who can't shop other days, but there is always the internet! Something which one sales person in MediaMarkt obviously knew when a customer asked if they could explain more about a Digital SLR camera he was interested in, reply was "if you want to know more, look on Google"!!! I felt like saying, "yes and while you do, check out preisvergleich and you'll find it 20% cheaper to buy online". What an idiot!
13:00 December 2, 2009 by Tron McFinger
Gaffer says "Nothing to stop people enjoy a quiet day even if the shops are open. This is what I don't understand in the whole argument"

If you live in the city center as I do, then having one day a week where there isn't the constant din of endless traffic and the frustrating congestion of pedestrians is a very wonderful thing. On Sundays, I can leave the apartment and the streets are QUIET. Go out on any other day of the week when the shops are open and it's loud and hectic and frazzles the nerves after a while. Perhaps I'm partially sensitive from having grown up in the quiet countryside, but I love German Sundays.

This is what some people here are talking about when they say it's nice having one day of relaxation.
13:12 December 2, 2009 by moistvelvet
Tron McFinger, I used to live next to a pig farm and guess what it stunk!! Surely you are free to live wherever you want, if you don't like the noise move out, if you prefer the tranquility of suburbia then why move into the city in the first place! Besides living in a suburb would be cheaper too.

However on the point of having a day off and it being sort of quiet, I can see the benefits.
15:59 December 2, 2009 by steve_glienicke
Think it is clear from all these posts that there is a varied point of view on what is right/wrong, best times/worst times, only point that is relevent is that 1 high court judge has upheld a appeal from the CHURCH without 1 thought for those who neither believe in a god or believe but dont go to church, this judge has not looked at the broad spectrum of the population when conciduring his verdict for instance muslims the day of sanctity is friday, for jews it is saturday, he did not take those religious factions into account when making his descision either, just a train of thought from my side, i wonder if this judge is also a church going man? (catholic perhaps) if so his entire descision could be called into challenge based on the fact he could have used his own belief in making his verdict thus not possibly being impartial in his final judgement.
16:16 December 2, 2009 by bramblebush
I wish they would quit ringing those blasted church bells on Suntag, they are hard on my hangover!
17:33 December 2, 2009 by d-j-US
I still see people who aren't getting the point about rest and family time. It's not only about whether you can manage your family and take time together even if the shops are open...but what if your family members are employed at the shops? They then wouldn't have the option about being with their families. Yes, they could then leave that job and find another, but is that really the answer? Maybe we should require all families to have someone in their family working on every day of the week, so they could never have a day together - oh wait! that's where it seems to be headed anyway!
15:06 December 3, 2009 by hkypuck
Wow, lots of responses on this one! (so why don't I jump into the fray..)

Yeah, lame! Workers unions that are supportive of this referrendum...isn't that ironic. Here's another opportunity to work. Look Germany, you don't HAVE TO be open on Sunday. Also, have they heard of multiple shifts here? Just because the Edeka is open from 7am - 9pm doesn't mean that the employees have to work the ENTIRE TIME. Break it up in half! If EVERYONE works on a Tuesday from 9-5 when do you buy groceries, get your dry-cleaning, buy hardware to fix your "Fahrad?"

I understand the fight against consumerism, but having to leave the office at 4pm so that I can feed myself seems a little...well a pain-in-the-ass is what it is!
15:11 December 3, 2009 by hkypuck
Oh yeah, and where do you get an 'after-school job' as a teen? When I was in highschool (USA) I got out of school at 3pm and worked from 4-9pm at the grocerie store.

AAAAND I could work 8 hours a day on Saturday AND Sunday. It wasn't always fun, but the opportunity/flexibility to make some spending cash in my free time was great.

I guess you don't start working until you're 18 here? But then, who pays for that beer you're buying at the store when you're 16?

!! Ich verstehe nicht !!!
11:09 December 4, 2009 by ryhntyntyn
"Not everyone has time during the week."

Hence Saturdays.
11:48 December 4, 2009 by hkypuck
"Hence, Saturdays"

Yeah, on Saturdays from 8-noon when the ENTIRE COUNTRY is crammed into the Edeka, Aldi, or Lindl.

Not having a familie to spend time with on Sundays renders the whole concept pretty pointless to me.

I'd rather work at my office job Th, Fr, Sa, Su, & Mon, and take Tue & Wed off! In fact, I just might do that!
12:18 December 4, 2009 by ryhntyntyn
Ok! Go ahead. As long as you are happy!
10:16 December 6, 2009 by Hertha
Here in England, Sundays are just hell ! So-called 'freedom' of Sunday shopping means roads are blocked, town and city centres are crowded, you cannot go out for a relaxing walk or visit friends and family without getting caught up in traffic jams leading to shopping centres. Everywhere there is noise. The best thing you can do is stay at home. You feel trapped.

What a relief it is when we tour Germany in the summer and experience quiet, relaxed Sundays, just like England was in the good old days.

Sunday shopping is 'freedom' for some, but at the expense of good common sense and sound traditional values.
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